How to Take Powerful Action Photos


Action photography is, in lieu of other words, a fascinating undertaking. Imagine how great you would feel after pulling off that perfect picture of someone jumping, running, or skipping. However, don’t go thinking that snapping a pic of a subject in motion is as easy as shooting scenery or a portraying.

Action photography is tricky, to say the least, but have no fear, because we are here to help you understand the basics. So, without further ado, here’s what you should do to take amazing action photos.


Image source: Pixabay

1. Adjust Shutter Speed


Image source: Pixabay

As you probably know by now (or we hope that you do), the camera’s shutter determines how much of whatever lies in front of it is exposed to the sensor. You should ensure that your camera’s shutter (which, by the way, should be a DSLR for the best possible results) is set to high speed. Otherwise, you will end up with blurry pictures.

That being said, what you need to do is to put your camera on manual and crank up the speed of your shutter. Everything below 1/200 will end up in disaster. For the best possible results, set the speed to 1/1000 or above. Still, don’t take this for granted. It all depends on your setting, the subject, and, of course, the available light. Do a little tinkering with your camera’s shutter speeds to get the hang of it.

2. Continuous Shooting Mode

Your beginner’s instinct will definitely tell you to keep that camera on single shot mode. That’s not a bad thing because it really helps you with focusing on the right things and gives you time to compose a great picture. However, keep in mind that in action photography time is of the essence, meaning that keeping it chill might cost you a great picture.

So, in order to capture a moving subject like, for example, a man jumping into a pool, set your camera to continuous shooting mode. This will allow it to capture your subject’s motion at different points in time and create homogenous sequences. Keep in mind that your camera still has to record and process these sequences, which means that it will be a while before you can shoot again.

3. JPEG over RAW

The JPEG-over-RAW talk is controversial, to say the least. Professional photographers usually prefer to shoot pictures in RAW format since the results are exceptional. However, given the high processing time rate, RAWs can put you at a disadvantage if your aim is to capture something that is in motion.

So, forget the whole bickering about RAW vs JPEG and set your camera to record pictures in the highest JPEG quality. JPEGs are much easier to store on the memory card, meaning that they will severely cut back on the ‘reloading’ time. On that topic, you should consider a high-quality memory card with a fast reading/writing rate, because each millisecond matters.

4. Panning


Image source: Wikimedia

Probably the best way we can think of to create a sequence of events featuring a subject is to follow it with your camera. It is called panning, and it is not that hard once you get the hang of it. Using your viewfinder, try following your subject for as long as you can. Don’t pan your camera very fast because you could risk blurring your picture beyond recognition. You will see that the pics will become clearer once you learn to master this skill.

5. Blurring the Background Really Pays Off

Another trick you can use to line up the perfect action shot is to blur the background by focusing on a focal point on the subject. For instance, if you want to snap a photo of an athlete in motion, say a cyclist, you should focus on his face instead of the people cheering behind them. On the other hand, if you are a car sports fan, the best thing you can do in order to pull off the perfect action picture is to focus on one of the car’s logos. As always, don’t forget to pan your camera and to adjust the shutter speed accordingly.

6. Use the Subject’s Face as the Center Focal Point

If you want to shoot a person in motion, you should consider focusing on his or her face instead of other things. That way, you would have ensured that your picture’s not out of focus. Moreover, by choosing to focus on the face, you will definitely be able to capture some pretty interesting expressions.

As you can see, the basics of action photography are easy to understand, but putting them into practice is an entirely different story. Don’t get too discouraged – practice as often as you can and, above all, try to do a little bit of experimenting.

Richard Gaspari is a passionate photographer and owner of an online project called He writes guides and tutorials for beginners, as well as expert reviews on some of the most popular cameras on the market.

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